That's because the No. 7 Buckeyes (9-2) lost again in their second true test of the early season in the form of a 74-66 defeat at the hands of No. 9 Kansas in Value City Arena on Saturday afternoon.
The good news for Ohio State is that it has plenty of time to improve in the areas that cost them the game against the Jayhawks, especially because Matta preaches constant improvement while being a work in progress until it matters the most in March.
The bad news for the Buckeyes was that many of the struggles that kept them from besting Kansas were the same issues that stopped Ohio State from finding victory against the Blue Devils, bringing into question how much this team has improved during the course of the past month.
Following are some observations from Ohio State's latest game, one that will likely help sum up just where this Buckeyes team is more than some of the blowouts they've recently enjoyed over lesser opponents.
• Deshaun Thomas didn't get his – Before the game I said it was important that Thomas get his, and the junior forward didn't. Despite the fact that he scored 16 points, the Buckeyes simply need more from him because he's the team's only proven scorer. The thing that stands out the most, however, is that he went roughly 10 minutes down the stretch of the second half without attempting a field goal. Though he's being double-teamed, there has to be a way to get the team's most proven scorer looks at the basket. Teams will continue to do what they can to remove him from the game, but All-Americans cannot be removed completely. He had a fair game, but he was too much of a non-factor down the stretch when OSU was desperate for a bucket.
• That said, he can't do it alone – Had Thomas scored six more points to bring his total to 22, I'm not sure you could ask any more from him – and OSU wouldn't have been that much better off. The ongoing question is if this Buckeyes team is going to be able to find secondary scoring, and against the Jayhawks nobody – and I mean nobody – answered the call. It doesn't matter how many more blowouts in the nonconference OSU enjoys – they cannot anoint someone as a reliable scoring threat until they do it repeatedly against top competition. In OSU's two games against Duke and Kansas, it has been Thomas and everyone else. That won't be a good formula come March.
• Lenzelle Smith Jr. simply isn't producing on offense – The junior was supposed to be Thomas' right hand man this season, but the reality is that he has been unable to be a reliable scoring option all season. Despite earning looks against Kansas, Smith couldn't knock down shots when the team needed them the most. It's understandable that Smith is getting all this time because he's a veteran that does a lot of little things right, but at what point does Matta start demanding more production out of his junior shooting guard? For now, those random 18-point efforts sprinkled in every now and then aren't going to be enough to get OSU over the hump.
• Cold shooting is an understatement – Nobody gets a free pass here. OSU made only four field goals in the first 15 minutes of the second half. You can blame who you want, but that's a pretty big failure for which the entire team deserves to take responsibility. OSU could get to the free throw line as many times as it wants – it isn't going to win any games shooting 30.8 percent from the field, including 25 percent in the second half. Oh, and that percentage is inflated because OSU made some easy layups at the end once the game was already decided. It's unnerving – and unprecedented – how many wide-open shots were taken, and missed, by OSU.
• Coaching? The funny thing that people are going to say that taking away Thomas is the easy way to beat OSU. And right now, that is absolutely true. However, the Buckeyes repeatedly got great looks and simply couldn't knock down shots. I don't know if there's anything left to design from a coaching standpoint from there. This game is simple, make shots or don't once looks are achieved. How else can you draw up shots that are that wide open once a team decides to double-team Thomas?
• LaQuinton Ross isn't who you want him to be – I think we got our answer for why Ross didn't play more in the second half at Duke. The reality is, Ross is a nice offensive weapon that is capable of scoring, but he isn't the savoir or the offensive juggernaut that everyone wants him to be. Perhaps with more growth he can be that player, but for now he is a nice role player that is better at offense than defense.
• Shooting percentage not the only reason for loss – The easy answer for why OSU lost this game is because it couldn't make a shot. Look deeper, though: OSU had a more turnovers (13) than assists (11).
• Half court offense not a strength – When Ohio State went on the 14-0 run in the first half, I thought that was the best basketball this team played the entire year. They were playing tough defense, forcing turnovers and getting into transition for easy buckets. The pressure was on Kansas, and OSU held complete control. That, in essence, is what Matta wants Ohio State basketball to be this year.
Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, when they play teams like Kansas, the opposing team is going to make a run and start protecting the basketball better. In those cases, OSU is forced to score in its half court sets. And in the second half, it was downright brutal to watch OSU try and score in those situations. I don't know the answer to that issue, either, if the team can't identify someone who can knock down a jumper.
• Amir Williams is this team's starting center – Evan Ravenel can be a good energy guy off the bench, but like it or not, Williams is going to be the post presence that dictates how far this team goes. You can worry about that because of what he is right now – a big guy that needs to add strength and learn to hold onto loose basketballs better. You can take solace in the fact that he is showing some fight, and I think it was clear how much this team needs him when Kansas closed out the first half on a 14-4 run with him on the bench. One more thing – want to commend Williams for the work he's done at the free throw line. That will be the difference for OSU in a game this year.
• Shannon Scott is a player – When Scott adds a consistent jumper to his repertoire, he's going to be one of the best players in college basketball. Right now, he is a tempo guy that sees the floor well and brings instant energy to his team off the bench. What he did in the first half was magnificent, and put on display why I've been calling him the team's most improved player all year long. In fact, I think you may see him slide into the starting point guard role with Aaron Craft sliding over two shooting guard. Scott is quick, explosive, a defensive pest and someone that can get to the rim. He has plenty to work on, but he's a difference-maker for this team this year.
• Craft needs to knock down shots – Trust me, it is so hard to say anything negative about Craft because he encompasses everything you love about a player and his defensive is invaluable to the team. However, moving Scott to starting point guard simply is impossible if he can't find his offensive stroke. He had so many wide open looks in this game and simply didn't knock them down. Matta is never going to take Craft off the floor because of his defense – nor should he – but it makes it harder to vary the lineup when Craft is inconsistent offensively. Craft is simply in his own head right now.
Overall picture – What I see when I see OSU play is a top 20 team that has the tools it needs to be a Sweet 16 team or better come March. The Buckeyes definitely belong on the same floor as teams like Duke and Kansas, but until they identify options to help Thomas out – or simply shoot better collectively – they're going to have a hard time beating teams like this. The good news is they play in the best conference in college basketball, and tests like the one they faced today will be normal. Will OSU find its way and become a threat in March or fade into the background because it struggles to score? Only time will tell.